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Russian oil tycoon prepares succession in case of arrest: report
July 14, 2003

Russia's richest man, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has picked a possible successor to take over the helm of his Yukos group if he is arrested under a widening fraud probe, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.

The authorities are investigating tax evasion at oil firms Yukos and Sibneft, which are due to merge to create the world's fourth-ranked producer. Yukos's chief financier is also in jail on embezzlement charges.

Khodorkovsky, 40, who has been in the United States at a business elite conference attended by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, plans to return to Russia on Tuesday, the daily reported.

But after masked police raided Yukos offices in Moscow on Friday, spending nearly 17 hours searching through computer archives, the billionaire magnate is preparing for the worst, Kommersant quoted a top Yukos official as saying.

First in line to replace him is the group's chief financier Platon Lebedev, who is already in jail since being arrested on July 2 and charged with defrauding a state company in 1994.

Next in line would be Yury Golubev, who is standing in for Lebedev as head of the Menatep group, which owns 61 percent of Yukos.

If all the top Yukos managers were unable to carry out the role, Lord Jacob Rothschild, head of the English branch of the Rothschild family, would step in, the company official told Kommersant on condition of anonymity.

Lord Rothschild, who is president of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, is a co-founder of the Yukos-financed Open Russia Foundation along with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Yukos officials declined to comment on the Kommersant report.

Khodorkovsky, who has a personal fortune estimated at eight billion dollars (seven billion euros), has been targeted by prosecutors in what is seen as a politically driven campaign by shadowy Kremlin figures.

The tycoon has been financing opposition parties ahead of December parliamentary elections, in a move analysts say breaks a 2000 pact between President Vladimir Putin and the nation's billionaire magnates for them to keep out of politics.

Putin himself is expected to win re-election in March next year but the winning parties in the December poll are likely to be invited to form a new government.

The dozen or so businessmen who own much of the Russian economy after buying vast metals and oils resources in dubious privatisation deals in the 1990s are now concerned that their assets could be seized.

Foreign investors who bought shares in all top Russian companies on the assumption that property rights would be respected have also become alarmed, sending the Russian stock market plunging by more than 10 percent last week.

But despite an appeal to Putin on Friday by Arkady Volsky, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, there is no sign yet of the investigations against Yukos being called off.

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